Some traders and residents of Kutch district, who supported a bandh call in protest of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on January 29, have alleged that they have been facing boycott from those supporting the new citizenship law.
While no complaints have been filed with the police, purported videos and messages calling for a boycott are doing the rounds of social media.
In Ratnal, a village in Anjar taluka of eastern Kutch, a group which identified itself as Akhil Bharat Desh Rakshak Samiti allegedly put up a hoarding that read “Jai Shri Ram: Anti-national elements shall not stop or park their vehicles and rickshaws in Ratnal village.”
While the hoarding has been taken down, police said there is no organisation by that name. Parikshita Rathod, Superintend-ent of Police, Kutch (East), said: “The banner was against ‘anti-nationals’. It does not require any action from our side.”
“Ratnal is only 3 km from our village, but people have stopped going there as they have put up banners which prohibit halt there,” said Juma Para, sarpanch of Chubdak village.
Para said that after the banner surfaced, he called up Trikambhai Varchand, husband of Ratnal village sarpanch, Sariyaben. “Trikambhai assured me that the matter will be sorted out and people would be able to go to his village. But the villagers are apprehensive,” he said.
Ratnal is also home to Gujarat Minister for Tourism and Welfare of OBC, Vasan Ahir.
Two days after the bandh, messages originated from several pro-CAA social media accounts, calling the traders who joined the bandh “anti-nationals” and exhorting people to stop purchasing goods from their shops so that “they remain shut forever”.
Bharat Sanghvi, a local BJP worker in Kutch, also forwarded in his social media group a message which asked people not to dine at a restaurant that remained shut on January 29.
Hussain Memon, a vegetable vendor of Pandhor village in Lakhtpat taluka of Kutch, alleged that he was stopped by a group of men when he entered nearby Navanagar village with his mini-truck on January 30 to sell vegetables. In a purported video of the incident that went viral on social media, one of the men is heard saying, “The village was shut yesterday. So we have decided that no one (who joined the bandh) will be allowed to enter our village from today.”
Memon, from the driver’s cabin, is seen trying to reason with the men, saying that people in Kutch have been living in harmony for years. But he is cut short by one of the men. “This is not for you alone. I swear by god, this has become a law for everyone…” the man tells Memon.
Another man tells the vendor: “Today, we are telling you politely that from tomorrow onward, the chhakdo (mini truck) should not enter the village…”
Navanagar, about 1.5 km from Pandhro, is part of Pandhro village panchayat.
Memon told The Indian Express that that he used to visit five to eight villages where he used to sell vegetables worth around Rs 5,000 everyday. But since that day, the 39-year-old vendor has not ventured out of Pandhro.
“I feel it is too risky to take my vehicle to those villages. I have stopped visiting those villages lest someone vandalises my truck. I spoke with Rajubhai, a leader of Navanagar, and Vikramsinh Sodha, a leader of the BJP youth wing. They told me I was free to visit villages to sell vegetables. But I have not mustered courage,” Menon said.
“I’ve been visiting these villages for the past 13 years… Such a thing had never happened before… I have not filed a police complaint but I did convey details to our local community leaders. I am waiting for their response,” said Memon, who supports his family of three daughters, a son, wife and parents.
Similar messages calling for a boycott also surfaced in Vadodara. The list of establishments to be “boycotted”, including those from south Gujarat districts and Surat city, was also reportedly updated. The posts termed the bandh supporters as “traitors” and called for people to stop dining at restaurants run by them and buying from their shops.
While the posts were widely shared on social networking sites, Vadodara police claimed ignorance. Local political leaders said these were “attempts by anti-social elements to disturb the harmony of Kutch by exploiting religious divide”.
Kutch, which shares a border with Pakistan, has a sizeable Muslim population.
Ibrahim Halepotra, president of Akhil Kutch Sunni Muslim Hitrakshak Samiti, a Bhuj-based organisation that works for the protection of rights of Muslims, said: “This is an attempt by a handful of anti-social elements to disturb peace. They want to tarnish the history of communal harmony in Kutch. We are protesting against the CAA because it is discriminatory, but protesting against this law does not make one anti-national.”
“We are citizens first… some anti-social elements are making attempts to disturb the atmosphere of peace and harmony by exploiting religious divide… it is difficult to control social media these days,” said Keshubhai Patel, president of BJP’s Kutch district unit. —With inputs from Vaibhav Jha in Ahmedabad
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